by cheri block
This is the time of year where most of us are invited to at least 2-3 graduations and the parties that follow. We are no exception. I attended my nephew’s graduation in film/business from USC last month and flew down to cheer him on and hear Will Farrell deliver a fine and funny commencement speech.
At the conclusion, I tried to find my daughter and grandson among the throngs of people in University Park, where, in 1969, I often reclined in the shade of the huge sycamore trees in front of Doheny Library reading poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge in preparation for my British Lit Before 1800 class.
I remember feeling romantic in the park in 1969 (only four years after the Watts riots so close by the campus) , staring skyward on my back at the hundreds of broad green leaves that shielded my view from the smoggy yellowish sky of Los Angeles. The security helicopters buzzed Figueroa Avenue often back then, not to be outdone by the hundreds of planes landing at LAX minute by minute. Am I forgetting the Harbor Freeway, so close to that soft lawn, only blocks from my grassy tuffet? Somehow those days, reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner I felt dreamy, mystical, and sophisticated. After all, I was only 19 years old and the world was my oyster.
Will Farrell finished his comedy routine. The graduation ended. I was alone among thousands, adrift in the sappy memories of my youth and the tremendous passage of time.
I needed to locate my family. The graduation party would begin at a lovely cool Zen restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Hunger blotted out my sentimentality.
My daughter, somewhere on the periphery of University Park, texted me:
“Mom, where ARE you?”
” Sara, I am standing right below Tommy Trojan, the iconic USC bronze statue upon which 1 ton of manure was dumped by helicopter during Homecoming Week, 1969, by some spirited enclave at UCLA. Just head to Tommy Trojan and you will see me. I am wearing a big hat and a small sundress,” I texted with the speed of a slug.
“Mom, where is Tommy Trojan?”
“OMG, Sara. Ask anyone and they will point the way. Everyone, except the grandparents of all of the hundreds of foreign students, knows where Tommy Trojan is.
She materialized and with relief, I hopped down from my pedestal.
My grandson wanted a tour of my old haunts. And my take on then and now. Wow!
“What was life like for you at USC in 1969?” he asked, looking at me with his soft brown eyes and smiling through a mouthfull of braces. (God bless him.)
I jumped like a kangaroo gramma at his question despite the fact that the heat of Los Angeles had begun to check in with my circulatory system.
(I have reached a stage in my life, since I sold my business and retired, where few people ask my opinion about anything. When I expressed this sad and sorry state of my personal affairs to my son, he told me that the reason is that most people already know it.)
Ouch. Back to therapy.
So we, that day in May at USC–a generational triumvirate– wandered around the campus, which had experienced tremendous growth and change.
We found my sophomore dorm, Birnkrandt, where my memories of my roommate Susie H and of my horrible soriety rush experience came back with the clarity of a high-country lake.
I told my grandson that Susie and I used to watch two of the greatest male tennis players ever to grace a clay court–Stan Smith and Bob Lutz–from our room and salivate. Those were the days when male tennis players and basketball players wore shorts. I would call down, ” Hi Stan! Nice shot!” and he would look up and smile. Melt.
The tennis courts had vanished, moved across campus to the mega-sports complex by Heritage Hall, where all of the Heisman Trophies (except O.J. Simpson’s) were there for viewing.
And so it went, that day last month, where our family celebrated the newest USC Trojan graduate, my nephew.
At his party, I toasted my Grandfather Harry, who graduated from USC Dental in 1907, one hundred years ago.
Some things have changed in LA. The smog isn’t as bad. The traffic is worse. There are more tattoes and graffiti. The San Gabriel Mountains are still hazy in May.
One thing has not changed: the optimism of the graduates, as they anticipate the next stages in their lives.
Congratulations to you!